Hug yours. Kiss yours.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had some close friends and loved ones who have received horrible news of the worst kind. They have lost members of their families or received devastating diagnoses for either themselves or their children. They are receiving the kind of news that you can’t recover from, fully.

Their stories and their lives are bouncing around in my head, and I feel like the best way that I can empathize is to remain positive.

Hug yours. Kiss yours. Hold them close and enjoy every waking minute of this life. Sometimes we don’t know when it will end, or what turns it will take. It isn’t worth it to be unhappy or ungrateful. It isn’t worth it to cheat or to be lazy.  Climb a hill or ride a bike. Get outside. Push yourself, mentally and physically, and be spontaneous. Don’t get lost in the details, and be honest with yourself. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy those around you. For all we know, we only get one chance at this, so make it count.

My Wife is Amazing

After our second kid was born, Lula decided to take back her body. For the first time in almost 4 years, she was alone with it. She no longer had to sit in the discomfort of being overweight and being unhappy about it. She could take charge and create the body that she always wanted.

She started moving, and moving some more. She started jogging and she started going to the gym. She started paying attention to herself. Eating right. Doing squats, stretches, lifts, and crunches. She dedicated herself, and it became a passion.

“Exercise is like brushing my teeth. I just have to do it everyday or something feels off.” -Lula

946796_10101559233225993_2129360872_nEventually she started competing. She took on a 5K. She kicked ass. She took on a mud run, and she rocked it. The more she ran, the more she wanted to run.

She wakes up a few times a week before 5am, and she takes off. I don’t know where she goes on her runs, but I know that when she comes back, she’s happy. She pushes herself, and she needs that.

Today marks the culmination of many things physical for Lu. Today she takes on the Philly Half Marathon.

13.1 miles of pure dedication. 13.1 miles of a dream that wasn’t possible for her before now. 13.1 miles of training, strength, hard work, and passion.

Lu is a success story. She’s someone that we should all watch with awe. She took something that she was unhappy with and she turned it completely around without anything more than her own will.

I’m more proud of her than I can even put into words. I’m inspired by her in so many ways. We can all learn something from what she’s done, and where she’s going.

My wife. She’s amazing.

4 years ago, today.

We woke up early that morning. Earlier than we needed to. Nerves, wonder, fear, and raw emotion pulled us out of bed. We drank our coffee without tasting it. We pulled our shirts over our tired heads and we got into the car.

Once we got to the hospital, it felt like an eternity rolled into a single minute. Each tick of the second hand echoed loudly in the brightly lit room, and we knew that the pace of the day was set. It wasn’t long before the nurse called her name, and we all jumped to our feet. We jumped to attention.

The surgery could take as long as 9 hours, we were told. They were going to try to get it all, but there were no guarantees. It’s a delicate surgery, and there’s just no telling what complications they may run into.

And then they wheeled her off. She waved goodbye, and none of us tried to choke down our tears. “Mom”, I whispered. “See you on the other side.”

There’s no telling how long we were in there. There’s no way to recount the thoughts that ran through our heads. I can’t tell you how quickly time passed, or how slowly. I can’t tell you if it was hard or trying or a breeze. All that I can tell you is that I don’t remember a single moment from those hours until we were met by the surgeon.

“We did well,” She tells us. “We got most of it, and she is in recovery now.”

For all intents and purposes, the surgery was a success. They were able to remove the band of malignant tumor that spanned her peritoneum. They removed organs and tissue. They removed anxiety and fear.

“She’s going to have quite a long road ahead of her,” she said “I’m expecting chemo to be unpleasant, and it’s not clear how well she’ll react to the treatment. Now that we’ve removed such a large mass, we can expect that she’ll live a few more years.”

A few more years, she told us. Only a few more years.

When we found her in the recovery room, completely stoned, Mom said with all of her might “I knew I’d see you on the other side!” At that point, she still didn’t know if she had survived the surgery. Either way, she was the happiest that she had ever been. In that moment, she was with her family. She was home.

The following weeks were painful. Those painful weeks tuned into painful months. Chemo sucked. There is no break from chemo when it’s running through your body. There’s no break from yourself on chemo. We kept waiting for the low point, but each passing week, each passing treatment, was worse than the one before it.

Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Those moments were dark ones, but like all dark moments, they’ve now passed.

The following few years, up until now, have been seeded with wins and losses. Cancer leaves and cancer returns. An amazing attitude, a default to optimism, and an incredible support system lead the way through the darkness. Mom has found herself. She has started to do less work and more soul searching. She follows her passions. She marries people. She buries people. She is a thought leader. She has come into her own. She travels. She laughs. She writes. She looks to the future as if the past doesn’t exist. She knows that her moments will create new moments.

She embraces life because life is precious. She excels at living in a way that none of us can comprehend.

4 years ago today she was wheeled away by the nurse. 4 years ago today we were told that she only had a few years. 4 is more than a few, and we are truly lucky.

Each moment that we have together is important. It’s so easy to take life for granted until you are faced with your own mortality. It’s easy to take your family for granted.

I’ve learned a lot from Mom about how to be alive. Moments are precious and if you don’t seize them, they leave you. If you don’t cherish them, they’re lost.

Being positive through the negative is important. If you’re not smiling, no one will know to smile with you. If you’re not bringing all of your passion to what you do, you’re not doing it right.

Mom has taught me that life is a privilege. Mom has taught me to speak my mind. To hug when I want to hug. Drink when I want to drink. Dance when I want to dance.

The world is better because of Mom and we’re all lucky to have her. I continue to learn from her. I continue to learn with her, each and every day.

Here’s to many more years of living the dream. L’chaim!

Support is Sexy

Since I began my job in March, I’ve had a hard time calling myself support. It isn’t that I don’t feel like support is an honorable job, because it is. It’s more that I feel like I do so much more than support our users. I do everything from training our new employees, to creating and editing both internal and external documentation, and even what amounts to business consulting over live-chat to help some of our users build the best web presence that they can have. Something about using the word support has always felt a little. . . a little less than what I do.

Maybe it’s a personal hang-up, but I’ve been the Director of Sales and Marketing for various organizations and a successful business owner. I never once thought of what I did as support. I trained support. I helped support do their job. I’ve just never really thought of what I did as support, until last weekend.

On October 18th, I attended a conference called UserConf, which has really changed the way that I see myself and what I do. This was a conference for a new breed of support. The modern breed of kick-ass, hard-working, super-smart, super-dedicated, and amazing support. These are the people that take start-ups and make them trustworthy. These are the people that you reach on the other end of the line, or email, or chat box, or twitter. These are the people writing the documentation to use their products. They are recording the videos, driving the product with suggestions, and helping you (with complete empathy) to change the world one pixel at a time. These are my people.

UserConf was more about the how of support and less about the why, with the exception of one presentation by Rich White of UserVoice. Rich touched on how acquiring users is no longer the road to success. It’s retaining users, and growing them, that holds the key. It’s showing real people that you are real. That you are trustworthy, helpful, empathetic, passionate, and in control. The only way that your start-up will set itself ahead of the pack is by providing the best customer experience. Loyalty drives us, and without support, we are nothing.

All of this is to say that I’m mighty proud of what I do. Just because I couldn’t previously accept the word support for what it is, doesn’t mean that I don’t identify as support. This word has taken on new meaning for me, and it’s a positive switch.

I’m passionate about helping WordPress.com users be the best that they can be. I’m proud to be a Happiness Engineer. I’m proud to call myself support.

Going Home

Since I was a kid, I’ve paid homage to a special place that I call home. This is a place that no matter where I am in life, I have the opportunity to step back. I have the ability to take a break from reality, relax, disconnect, and enjoy the things that are most important to me; without distraction.

At home, we don’t worry about the clothes we’re wearing, where we’re going to sleep, what we’re going to eat, or how strong the internet connection is. At home, we don’t worry about saying silly things, drinking too much, or offending our neighbors. At home, we listen to music loudly. We dance. We sleep. We relax. We spend time with family, friends, and people we’re about to know. At home, we’re at peace.

At home, we spend our time outdoors. We stay up late and wake up early. At home, we need no introductions because everyone there is the closest friend that you’ve never met. At home, we build community. We work for our food, and we share in the responsibility of making home, home.

At home, everything is communal. We laugh. We sing. We play our guitars and our drums until there are no hours left in the night. At home, we’re comfortable with who we are. At home, we’re all equal.

There is no email. There are no deadlines. Time seems to stand still as if a moment was supposed to last forever. Memories are made. Love happens.

At home, I’m me. I’m not dictated by a schedule. I’m not connected to the internet. I move slowly, and I take my time. I drink beer. I play games. I show my kids what it’s like to exist without creature comforts. I’m happy. The world is perfect.

I couldn’t exist without home. It’s taught me to be humble. It’s taught me to be patient, to work hard, to listen, and to take my time. Home has taught me to relax and to truly be myself, regardless of what others may think. Home is where my heart is. And I’m better because of it.

 

Time for reflection

We all need to reflect on where we are sometimes. For me, it’s this day. Every year.

It’s the day that I get one year older and one year wiser. I usually spend the days before my birthday thinking about all of the things that I’d like to change about my life, and then I try to spend my birthday itself thinking about all of the things that I love.

It creates a truly positive day and gives me the chance to be honest with myself about how content I really am with my station in life.

I just wanted to take a moment on this day to recognize out loud that I’m one lucky dude. I’m completely grateful for the friends and family that surround me at every turn, and completely honored to be a part of this existence. I absolutely love my life and the adventure that I’m on.

As I spend today reflecting on the positives, I just have to say, this is one heck of a ride and couldn’t be more content.

MakeyMakey

The MakeyMakey is AWESOME. The concept is to connect the real world to the internet, and it does it in such a fantastic way. It’s super-fun finding conductive objects to play music, games, or do anything else that you would normally do with a keyboard.

In our house we decided to do some learning using a math skills game with strawberries as the controller. Check it out:

Magic Tricks

I’ve always had a love of magic. From the moment I realized that I could be a participant in inspiring awe, it’s been a passion. Performing magic tricks has really influenced the way that I approach life. Everything from the type of salesman and negotiator I am, to the way that I raise my kids comes back to magic tricks. It’s mostly about being a step ahead and embracing wonder than anything else.

For the last few years, though, I’ve let that hobby lay dormant in the back of my mind. I think that I’ve convinced myself that raising a family and building my career would leave no time for things like learning new tricks. A few weeks back, however, I took an awesome trip with some of my co-workers to Santa Fe, NM where the Amazing Bryan reminded me just how important it is to embrace wonder and awe.

I pulled out some old tricks and was much more rusty and clunky about it than I thought I would be. Since then, though, I’ve tried to keep magic at the forefront of my mind and have even started carrying around a deck of cards again. It feels good to get back into the swing of things. It feels even better to reinvigorate a hobby that I thought that I had let go of. In many ways, I’m starting over. In other ways, pulling old tricks out of the recesses of my brain is like a magic trick all its own.

 

Awesome Screenshot + Cloud App = Magic

In my work and in my life I take a lot of screenshots. A LOT of them. According to my logs, I take anywhere from 10-35 per day, half of which are usually annotated in one way or another.

Generally speaking, I need to create these on the fly. Whether it’s for Engineering Happiness or showing my wife that I did something cool, I need to make them quickly.

I’ve found an amazing combination of little apps that has made this process super simple, quick, and magical.

First and foremost, the best way to take a screenshot on a Mac is Cmd+Shift+4. This allows you to select the area of the screen and automatically save it to your desktop.

Cool, right? Well, sort of.

By saving an average of 22.5  screenshots to my desktop per day, I’d have to make cleaning up part of my daily routine or else I’d be overwhelmed with a messy desktop at the start of each day. Boo to that.

Luckily, we can fix that pretty easily with a Terminal command. The Terminal can be found under Applications → Utilities on your Mac.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 9.54.01 AMI’ve created a folder on my desktop called Screenshots where all of my screenshots are automatically saved. If you want to do the same, launch the Terminal and enter this command (after you’ve created the folder, of course):

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop/Screenshots/

To make this stick, you need to enter one more command which is:

killall SystemUIServer

After you’ve done that, go ahead and give it a whirl. Cmd+Shift+4 yourself away and watch all of your screenshots be saved to a folder instead of directly to the Desktop.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s where the amazing happens:

Awesome Screenshot is a screenshot annotation add-on for your favorite browser. I personally use the Firefox version, but they also have versions available for Chrome and Safari. This add-on allows you to capture all of the screen or part of the screen and circle, point, and text your way to descriptive annotations. It is super intuitive, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Oh, and it’s totally free.

Awesome Screenshot at work

Awesome Screenshot at work

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 7.06.27 AM

Cloud App Menu

Cloud App lets you upload and share files really easily. One of the most amazing features is  Auto Upload Screenshots, which means that each time you take a screenshot it automatically gets uploaded to your account and given a URL, which is automagically copied to your clipboard for easy sharing. You can upload and share almost any type of file with it, which is equally awesome.  Another cool thing is that you can use your own URL with it so that your sharing is more personal. I use the URL http://im.alxb.co for my screenshots. They do have a free version, but I’ve found the need for the Pro version which is $3.75 per month. Totally worth it.

Now each of these on their own is super powerful and helpful in many ways, but what happens when you combine them? Magic. That’s what happens.

The flow of it is pretty simple, but totally powerful:

You’re on a page where you want to point something out to someone and you simply click the Awesome Screenshot icon in your browser. This opens up a new tab, where you can annotate away, making your screenshot. . . um. . . awesome. The next step is to Cmd+Shift+4 that puppy so it’s automatically saved to your Screenshots folder and uploaded to Cloud App. Once it’s automatically uploaded to Cloud App, you have a nice neat URL copied to your clipboard, ripe for sharing. Magic, I tell you, magic.

Here’s a quick video of the flow. It takes no time at all, and works great for quick sharing of ideas (Full-screen this bad-boy to really see it in action):

It’s About Respect

Yesterday, as the sun was shining and I was driving through Philly in my new(ish) car with the windows down, pumping NPR through my top-o-the-line stereo, I had an experience that hasn’t left my mind.

A man, dressed in a neatly pressed blue button down shirt and clean khakis, stood outside of my window. He held a cardboard sign in his hands and he looked at me with pure fear in his eyes. His sign read:

Homeless Father of 2. Lost everything. Will work. Please help. God is great.

He opened his mouth to ask me something, and I stared straight ahead, ignoring him completely. That was wrong, and I feel completely ashamed at the fact that I would do such a thing. Whether this man was sincere in his plea, or his “story” was fiction, is beyond the point. Another human approached me in a time of need, a time of desperation, a time of vulnerability, and I ignored him.

I don’t think that I’m alone in this reaction.

I have strong feelings about how I help the homeless citizens that I encounter. I’m willing (and often do) purchase food, smokes, drinks, and other small items for someone when they ask me for change outside of the Wawa. I don’t give money. I never give money.

But can I do more? Should I do more? Is it my burden or theirs? If it’s mine, where do I draw the line?

I’m ashamed. I’m a father of two. I count my lucky stars every day that I have been given the opportunities that I have, but should I feel guilty about that success?

I don’t have the answers here, but I can continue to search for them. I will, however, work towards changing my interaction. Each person deserves to be treated equally, regardless of their situation in life. It is not my place to ignore someone asking for help, rather, respond to them with sincerity, like I would with anyone else. My answer may be “no” or it may be “Can I buy you something to eat?” But it will be an answer. Giving respect is the absolute very least that I can do, but it’s an important thing to do.

This father of two did not deserve my disrespect. No one deserves that disrespect.

We’re in this life together and treating each person with respect, even if it’s to tell them that you won’t help them, is an important step in our collective future.